Yoennis Cespedes displays his speed in the World Baseball Classic in 2009
In the year 1911, 23 year old Rafael Almeida took the field to play third base for the Cincinnati Reds. He was the first Cuban born player to ever play in the Major Leagues. He wouldn't be the last though, not by a long shot.
Bert Campaneris, Jose Canseco Rafael Palmiero, Luis Tiant, Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hernandez and Aroldis Chapman have all played in the majors. There are many more and in the very near future there will be another added.
Yoennis Cepedes is a Cuban defector who was granted free-agent status by Major League Baseball today. He is a 26 year old outfielder who has gained notoriety by releasing a you tube video of him performing a mix of baseball drills and NFL Combine drills.
In spite of the fact that the video paints a picture of a player who may or may not be ready to handle the structure and day-to-day rigors of a major league season, his ability will spark interest among nearly every team in baseball.
The current market for top Cuban defectors in their prime has been set by Aroldis Chapman. The pitcher from Cuba burst onto the free-agent market in the fall of 2009. In January of 2012 the Cincinnati Reds signed him to a six year, $30.25 million contract. Cespedes is a bit older than Chapman but he's expected to fetch similar money.
The current favorite to land Cespedes is the Florida Marlins. Miami has America's largest Cuban population and of course the climate and proximity to Cuba will always be appealing to Cuban defectors. That didn't end up landing the Marlins Chapman though, so there's going to be a bit of a war for Cespedes.
When a war involving money breaks out in baseball, the usual suspects are involved. Look for the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Nationals and Phillies to all be linked to him. Still with the Marlins moving into a new ballpark in Miami and with a history of attendance problems, the temptation to possibly overbid to acquire Cespedes may be too much for the Marlins to resist.
If Cespedes became a bonafide big league star he could patrol centerfield in Miami with thousands of Cubans from Miami cheering him on. He's not a sure thing but no player is. If the Marlins can get an above average centerfielder for $30 million, who could also help solve their attendance issues, then that's not just a good investment, it's a necessary one.